Stolen tools & copper recovered; Laconia man charged

BELMONT — A Laconia man has been arrested and charged with burglary and the theft of power tools and cooper. Heath O'Connell, 30, of Weirs Blvd. was later released on his own recognizance bail and is scheduled to be arraigned on a pair of felony charges in 4th Circuit Court - Laconia Division on December 18.

Police report that on October 1 they received a report of the theft from a contractor's work site on Plummer Hill Road. $1,600 worth of commercial saws and blades and $2,500 worth of copper was missing.

Using a property tracking system known as "leadsonline", officers learned the saws had been pawned at a shop in Manchester. The dealer had submitted the serial numbers of the saws to the registry and the online database also identified O'Connell as the person who pawned the items.

The saws were positively identified by the contractors as the ones stolen in Belmont and they were recovered from the shop inventory.

The stolen copper was tracked to a Manchester metal business and that businesses records identified O'Connell as the seller.

O'Connel was arrested on November 6.

Commenting on the case, Lt. Richard W. Mann said, "Time and time again we have seen that it is invaluable to have both photographs of your tools, as well as a record of the model, color and serial numbers. Have key information readily available increases the odds that missing property can then be positively identified and recovered.


With new acccounting angle, Belknap Commission back to using part of health insurance refund as a credit

LACONIA — The Belknap County Commission this week reversed its earlier decision and will apply a portion of the credit it received from HealthTrust, the municipal and county insurance risk pool, against the cost of health insurance premiums for county employees.

County Administrator Debra Shackett said yesterday that using the credit will enable the county to pay its share of health insurance premiums without exceeding the amount appropriated by the Belknap County Convention for 2014

In March, when the convention adopted the county budget, it froze the appropriation for health insurance at 2013 levels. Shortly afterwards the commission shuffled monies from other line items within departmental budgets to restore sufficient funding to meet the projected increase in the employer premiums, which collective bargaining agreements with employees oblige the county to pay. The convention challenged the commission's authority to transfer funds without its approval and was upheld by Belknap County Superior Court.

The commissioners considered applying the reimbursement for past overpayments from HealthTrust as a credit against its 2014 premiums, which would have enabled them to fund health insurance within the limit of what the convention appropriated without violating the contracts or laying off employees. However, when the the independent auditors declined to sanction the maneuver, the commissioners abandoned this approach and instead asked the executive committee of the convention to transfer funds to the health insurance accounts.

Circumstances changed this week. Shackett explained that Peter Bragdon, executive director of HealthTrust, informed her that the credit of $127,893 was to compensate the county, its employees and its retirees for excessive premium payments in both 2013 and 2014. Shackett sought advice from the auditor, who said that the credit related to premiums paid in 2013 must be booked as an unanticipated revenue in 2014 and could not be set against current expenditures. On the other hand, the credit related to premiums paid in 2014, whether taken as a credit or cash, must be recorded as a reduction of current expenditures.

Shackett calculated that $46,217 represented unanticipated revenue, $5,863 was owed to employees and $15,669 was owed to retirees, leaving the county with $60,143 to apply against expenditures for health insurance in 2014.

Meanwhile, Shackett explained that changes in the "census," or number and status of full-time employees entitled to benefits, during the course of the year has left some departments with surpluses and others with deficits in their health insurance accounts. She said that transferring funds from the accounts in surplus, together with the credit, will enable the county to honor its obligation to fund health insurance for its employees without either exceeding the amount appropriated by the convention or violating the order of the court.

The commission will present its plan, along with requests for transfers, to the executive committee when it meets on November 17.

Josh Youssef renovating 1789 Jewett Homestead

LACONIA — Josh Youssef is surrounded by history. He sees it. He smells it. He knows its charm, and he knows its challenges.

Youssef, a computer programming expert who owns a computer repair and upgrade company, says he has long been interested "in touching history." For the past three years, he has done more than touch it. Since buying the Jewett Homestead on Gilford Avenue, the oldest house in Laconia, Youssef has been rolling up his sleeves and tackling history with his hands.

The Jewett Homestead was built in 1780 by Jacob Jewett, one of the founders of present-day Laconia. (At the time the house was built its location was then part of Gilmanton.) An ell was added around 1840, Youssef believes. In time the timber-frame, center-chimney cape and its additions grew to 15 rooms and 4,400 square feet. Alongside the house was a substantial barn, which was dismantled and trucked to Gilford in the 1990s, where it was rebuilt.

Youssef became the owner of the house somewhat by happenstance. He was all set to buy another house in late 2011 when he learned that the Jewett Homestead was up for sale. He bought the home for $67,000 in December of that year.

"The house was in state of serious disrepair," Youssef explained, and he did not start living there until February 2013. "I wanted to bring it back to something of its original grandeur," he said, explaining what prompted him to take on the challenge.

Since becoming the owner of a piece of history it's been one project after another. He had a new roofing installed, repainted the exterior, replaced the heating system, had new insulation put in, and replaced most of the plumbing.

While he has hired contractors to handle the larger projects, he is doing as much of the work as possible himself. Currently he is doing the finishing work on a new front door for the house. The large shed attached the ell serves as Youssef workshop.

As the work has progressed Youssef says "the more in touch with history," he has become.

The house's place in Laconia's history is never far from his mind. As he walks through the living room with its beamed ceiling and large brick fireplace, he often thinks of the conversations that must have taken place in the room at about the time the U.S. finally gained its independence from Great Britain.

Four generations of the Jewett family lived in the house. The last was Abbie Jewett, who was an art teacher at Laconia High School, and in addition worked in arts and crafts, and during the 1930s and 1940s operated a tea room in one part of the house.

Tackling a project such as this is not for the faint of heart, Youssef cautions. He is quick to say that his goal is to renovate the house, not restore it, explaining that restoration would mean returning to the way it would have looked and furnished in the 18th and 19th centuries. But while the house will certainly have plenty of modern features, like contemporary kitchen appliances and wide-screen TVs, Youssef wants to do it in way that is respectful of the home's past.

Youssef expects that eventually he will offer the house for sale.

Meanwhile, Youssef, his partner Julie Griffin, and their 17-month-old son, Joshua, are living in what can best be described as a work in progress.

Youssef said that anyone who is thinking of tackling a similar project either needs to be prepared to spend a great deal of money or else have the know-how to do a lot of the work themselves. "You either need to show up with a lot of money, or your tools," he said.

Even with doing much of the work himself, Youssef said he has so far spent $200,000 on the project.

But Youssef is philosophical. "This house is always going to need work," he observed.


Solicitation ordinance would ground GFD 'boot drives'

GILMANTON — Selectmen have put off action on a proposed ordinance which would have put an end to a fundraising activity conducted by a local firefighters' organization.

The action came as about 50 residents turned out for a public hearing on the proposal which would prohibit soliciting funds within the right-of-way of any roadway in town. Most of those attending were opposed to the ordinance which would put a stop to so-called "boot drives" conducted by the Gilmanton Fireman's Association, which the group holds to raise funds for certain improvements to Fire Department facilities as well as to provide life safety equipment for town facilities and certain civic organizations.

During the fundraising events, firefighters stand on the side of roadways asking motorists to drop bills and change into an empty rubber boot.

Selectmen said they decided to propose the ordinance after they received an e-mail from resident Israel Willard inquiring who would be liable if someone were to be injured while the boot drives were under way at the four-way intersection of Routes 140 and 107 during weekends when NASCAR races take place in July and September at the nearby New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

"I'm not against the boot drive," said Selectman Stephen McCormack. "I'm just looking at the safety issues. It's appropriate for us to look at this issue."

Selectmen said the town's insurer advised that the town needed to consider several matters, including the volume and potential speed of traffic during the boot drives, and the traffic control system that is in use at the time.

Responding to a question from the audience Selecboard Chairman Brett Currier said that the board had not discussed the matter with the Police Department, or with the Firemen's Association, which is has been sponsoring the boot drives for 20 years.

Firemen's Association member Vinnie Baiocchetti told selectmen that they needed to consider what the association is able to do for the town with the money raised during the boot drives. He said that some of the money has been used to buy defibrillators which have been placed in the Academy Building, the Year-Round Library and Gilmanton School. He said other funds have been donated to the Boy Scouts.

"I understand you don't like the boot drive, but we do give back to the community," Baiocchetti said.

Currier acknowledged that he did not like the boot drives. "It makes it look like we don't fund the (Fire) Department adequately, and we do," he said.

Association President Dennis Comeau said that the boot drive was a way to collect money from visitors, rather than all the money having to come from local residents.

Comeau was among many in the audience who criticized the selectmen with trying to enact an ordinance without first taking the time to research the situation and getting advice from others, like the Firemen's Association.

"A lot of this could have been avoided with a few simple questions and answers," he said.

Not all the public comments were in favor of the boot drive. Douglas Islied of Gilmanton Iron Works urged that the town broaden the ordinance to ban all types of panhandling along the highways and roads.

Selectman Donald Guarino proposed tabling the ordinance soon after the meeting opened, but withdrew his motion to allow those that showed up for the hearing to make comment. After about one hour of hearing from the audience selectmen voted to table the ordinance until they had a chance to talk to the Firemen's Association and the town's attorney.

Some at the hearing suggested that rather than having an ordinance banning boot drives altogether, they should rather look at establishing a permit system that would provide a procedure to give the town assurance that the necessary safety precautions were being taken.

Mark Sisti, who serves as town moderator, told selectmen that they should be focused on more important issues.

"This is not a big deal. This is petty stuff," he said.

He also mentioned that boot drives are a common fund-raising activity among fire departments and firefighter groups all over the country. "It doesn't cheapen the town," he remarked.

After the hearing Comeau said he was confident that the Firemen's Association and selectmen "can work this out." He was grateful to the association supporters who showed up at the hearing and raised valid points which he was confident the selectmen will be pondering and they consider what steps to take.